- Test suspicious painted areas with lead paint test sticks, especially high traffic areas including windows and doors
- Test your water using First Response Drinking Water test kit to ensure lead pipes aren’t releasing lead into your water.
- Test your soil by sending samples to LSU Ag Center or your own local soil testing lab
- Paint over any chipped areas with a sealing product such as Eco-Bond Lead Defender. Never sand lead paint – if you need to remove it, it is best to hire an experienced contractor who understands EPA rules & regulations
- If your soil is contaminated, either remove it or pave over it.
- If your water is contaminated, get a water filter that removes lead & other contaminants. Contact your plumber to remove lead pipes.
- If you have positive tests especially around windows and doors, request a lead test from your pediatrician for any children in the home
- Damp mop your floor every day especially in children’s play areas
- Don’t wear shoes in your house (put a shoe rack next to the door and get some nonslip shoe covers for repair people)
- Use outdoor and indoor doormats
Lead Paint Issues
I live in an old house (by American standards), which comes with all the character and charm and maintenance bills that one would expect. And something I didn’t really think about beforehand: lead paint. Since the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, there is much greater public awareness about lead contamination. However, the problems are not confined to the Flint or to water pipes. The EPA did not ban lead paint until 1978 (European countries had banned it as early as 1909). My home was built well before lead paint was banned in 1978, and and the EPA reports that approximately 87% of homes built before 1940 contain lead paint. Since it had been painted over many times, I wasn’t really concerned about it because everything I’ve read stated that it’s not a danger as long as you don’t disturb it.
In addition to following the doctor’s advice, I also had our screen door and exterior back door removed and sent to be professionally stripped off-site, along with our bathroom cabinet doors. I painted our doorway frames and other areas of chipping paint with a product called Eco-Bond, which is a primer that is supposed to bond to the lead paint and allow you to safely strip it, or paint over it. I opted to paint over it because stripping our entire house would mean we’d have to move out. This was a much easier option, leaving us the possibility to strip the lead paint at a later time, for example, if I decide to do further renovations which would require us moving out anyway.
Lead Pipes – Water Contamination
Another source of lead can be lead pipes, since the installation of lead pipes wasn’t banned until 1986. I tested our water using this First Response Drinking Water test kit, which tests for lead as well as bacteria, pesticides, nitrites/nitrates, chlorine, hardness, and pH. Luckily the water test came back negative for lead and everything else except it was positive for pesticides! If your water is contaminated with lead, you will need to contact a plumber to change the pipes if they are located in your house. Some cities have programs to replace the service pipes. The EPA website recommends flushing your pipes before using the water, using only cold water for drinking and cooking, and cleaning your faucet screen/aerator regularly.
Our tap water is filtered through the Filtrete Maximum undersink water filtration system (be sure to get the one labelled Maximum for removing as many contaminants as possible including lead). We still use unfiltered tap water for showers, so now I am researching whole house water filters, but that’s a topic for another post.
Outdoors: Lead-Contaminated Soil
Next, I decided to tackle the outdoors – our yard. There were some areas right next to the house where nothing was growing and the first advice from a landscaper was that I had a gutter problem that needed to be repaired (which was true) and the excess water running along those points preventing things from growing (which turned out not to be true). Another landscaper suggested that it may be due to high lead content in the soil from the years of peeling/flaking paint off the house (and probably dry sanding from painters not following EPA rules about lead paint removal).
I took some soil samples and sent them off to the LSU Ag Center which will do routine tests for $10 per sample and heavy metal tests (which includes lead) for an additional $5 per sample. I divided our yard into 3 different areas: front yard, backyard, and right next to the house. The sample results were returned to me by both email and regular snail mail. Our results showed that the levels in our front yard and backyard (areas covered by grass already) were normal to slightly elevated (normal lead levels in soil are 50ppm to 400ppm). The area next to our house was high. I used this link from the EPA to interpret the results (see page 22), and the advice from the EPA regarding the level next to our house was that it was unsuitable for all types of gardening, children’s and pet play areas, and picnic areas. This was alarming, to say the least!
I decided the best long-term solution was the most conservative one as well (aside from selling our home and moving somewhere without lead problems), so I decided to remove the soil entirely. I measured out 6 feet all around our house and had 6 inches of soil removed (the advice I could find online recommended anything from 2 to 6 inches, so I went with the higher recommendation). Your landscaper/gardener should know this, but if you decide to DIY, be aware that lead-contaminated soil will have to go to a landfill, and not all landfills will take it so be sure to contact them in advance. I then had 10 cubic yards of new high-quality organic topsoil delivered. And now I start the fun part – choosing new plants for the landscaping!